Gary Rhodes directs UCLA’s Center for Global Education in the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies and is a research associate at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in South Africa. He has written extensively on how global harmony and understanding can be engendered through worldwide athletic events. His commentary was posted June 12 in Ampersand.

When players, coaches and spectators are focusing on the World Cup of Football (Soccer) from June 12 to July 13, will they think about the higher ideals of fighting racism, supporting youth development, and building international understanding?

The Center for Global Education at UCLA has developed World Wise Athlete, an online resource to help enhance understanding of the history of the World Cup; background about the host country, Brazil; and the ideals of the World Cup and ways that international organizations and individual athletes have given of their time and resources to use soccer as a way to support youth development and international understanding.

The sporting event, with arguably the largest following around the world, begins Thursday in Rio de Janeiro. According to Reuters, the event should break records in the number of viewers worldwide, possibly surpassing the 909.6 million viewers of the 2010 World Cup.

One could expect that more than 1 billion people around the world will be experiencing the World Cup on TV, following players, coaches, spectators and the citizens of Brazil, some of whom have been protesting about various issues and concerns. Along with viewing games at seats in the stands, following efforts in previous World Cup games, there will be opportunities to view the games with others in Fan Zones around the country, with large-screen TVs and a festival atmosphere.

At the same time, there are concerns about protests and unrest in Brazil that could challenge plans for the World Cup. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, protesters and violence in the streets and activists promise to disrupt the games in the name of Brazil’s rampant poverty and poor access to public and health services for most of its citizens. In the wake of $11 billion spent in preparations for the World Cup, activists are bent on underscoring the games as unjust in the face of Brazil’s social and economic inequalities.

I hope that while enjoying the 2014 World Cup, players, coaches and spectators will take time to enjoy the games and, at the same time, consider the concerns expressed by protesters, but with a broader understanding of the history of the World Cup, and the history and culture of Brazil. I hope they will find ways to support efforts to make a positive impact on the people of Brazil and around the world by connecting sport, international understanding and youth development.

The website was developed in support of similar efforts connected to Olympic ideals during the 2012 London Olympics and updated to be relevant to the 2014 World Cup. The center plans to expand upon this resource between the time of this year’s World Cup and the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.